Best known for its oil politics and feisty president, Venezuela is in fact one of Latin America’s most alluring natural treasures, endowed with sugar-white beaches along the Caribbean, steamy rainforests along the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, the vast grassland of the Gran Sabana, and snowcapped Andean peaks around Merida. For the active vacationer, Venezuela is Nirvana. After landing at Caracas airport, fly off to Canaima National Park, home to Angel Falls, which spills down 2,648 ft. to the canyon below, forming the highest waterfall on earth. Travelers fly over the falls (weather permitting) or approach by river boat from lodgings on Canaima Lagoon. Then, travelers can head out to Los Llanos where during a stay at a hato (working cattle ranch), they’ll see natural wonderlands populated by capybara, anaconda, caiman, anteater and birds galore. Henri Pittier National Park, a 2-hour drive from Caracas, is another wonderland for bird lovers. By the sea, pick Isla Margarita, a short hop by air from Caracas for beaching and surfing; highland villages with lively craft markets and championship golf courses; historic fortress and churches, as well as nature reserves such as La Restinga National Park. For snorkeling, diving, sailing and fishing, no location is more idyllic than the archipelago of Los Roques, 80 miles off the coast. Small planes land on the main island of Gran Roque, where visitors stay in guesthouses (posadas) and take boat excursions to white-sand islets floating above one of the largest coral reefs in the Caribbean.
What’s New in Venezuela
✘ Now in fashion with beach buffs: the lush tropical Paria Peninsula on the Caribbean with its deserted palm-fringed beaches and brightly painted ports and villages. Posada Playa de Uva is one place for clients to hang their sombrero: recommend one of the clifftop VIP villas with private plunge pools. (parquenivaldito.com)
✘ On Isla Margarita, the windsurfing and kitesurfing set now head for either Playa Yaque beach or Coche Island.
✘ One popular attraction no longer to count on in Venezuela: the longest and highest cable car system in the world, the 8-mile-long teleferico in Merida, is no longer operating.